With the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been hearing new words thrown around that were previously only used in medical settings. Now, between ventilators and respirators and N95 masks and KN95 masks, we might get confused with so many terms. All these medical supplies have been very important and crucial to face the pandemic, but many people aren’t familiar with them and might want to investigate further.
Ventilators, sadly, have played a central part in this emergency around the world and inside the United States. In this article, we’ll explain what they are, why they’re important, and the difference between them and respirators.
COVID-19 and understanding why ventilators are important for it
In December of last year, a new species of the genus of coronaviruses was discovered. This new virus, named the SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, since there’s another coronavirus called the SARS-CoV-1), is responsible for a respiratory disease that has been called COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019).
This disease, in the majority of the cases, is a very mild flu-like respiratory illness, with the main symptoms being dry cough, sore throat, and muscle pain, sometimes accompanied by fever and the loss of smell and taste. Many cases are also asymptomatic as well. But, there’s a group of people who are more vulnerable to developing a more severe form of the disease.
This group of people includes older people, immunocompromised patients, and people with other conditions like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, pre-existing lung conditions, and any type of organ failure, among others. In these people, getting infected and developing COVID-19 can lead to serious complications like thrombosis, severe lung injury, multi-organ failure, and it can even be lethal.
Even though most cases are mild or asymptomatic, and the size of the percentage of severe cases is small in comparison, when too many people are infected at the same time, it becomes more concerning. Healthcare centers become overwhelmed and can collapse. This is what’s been happening during this year, and why it’s important to stop the spread.
Asymptomatic people can still spread the virus, which is why the use of face-coverings, be it surgical masks, N95 respirators, KN95 masks, or reusable cloth masks, is important in public places. It doesn’t matter if you’re a young person, you need to wear a face mask in public, and this includes kids as well.
What are ventilators?
You might have read or heard this word being used frequently online or on the news and wonder what people are talking about. Ventilators are machines that help people breathe when their bodies can’t do it on their own. Some professionals call the mechanical ventilators as well, and other names include breathing machine, or life support.
Lungs are the organs with the job to inhale and exhale air, and when this is done normally and effectively, oxygen is taken to the cells for respiration, and then the lungs exhale carbon dioxide, the waste substance resulting from respiration and that can be toxic inside the body.
There are diseases, including COVID-19, that can damage the lungs, making them not work effectively to breathe. A ventilator is used to mechanically help pump oxygen into the lungs, flowing through a tube that is inserted into your airways, a process called intubation. If you can’t exhale on your own either, the ventilator can be programmed to do it for you as well, otherwise carbon dioxide would accumulate inside your body.
Intubation is the process of placing a tube into the lungs, be it an endotracheal tube, meaning that it’s inserted through a tracheotomy or one that’s inserted through the mouth. The tube is then connected to the ventilator, and the patient is administered pain and sedation medication, keeping the patient in an adequate level of wakefulness and comfort.
So, simply, the ventilator breathes for them when the patient can’t breathe on their own, be it from COVID-19, pneumonia, traumatic injuries, or any other possible cause for breathing not being possible. They’ve been necessary for the most severe cases of COVID-19 in which patients experience an acute respiratory distress syndrome, where the oxygen levels are too low for the patient to be kept alive.
The difference between a ventilator and a respirator
Respirators and ventilators have been getting mixed up since the beginning of the pandemic, and the truth is they’re two completely different things. Respirators are masks or mask-like devices that contain a filter media meant to trap harmful particles from the air, like dust, smoke, or viruses like the flu or the SARS-CoV-2.
The best ones for virus protection are N95 respirators, which are disposable face masks with antiviral properties that, inside the USA, are tightly regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Some of the most popular models are the 3M N95 masks, like the 3M 8210 and the 3M 8511, and they can be worn with face shields. People began to buy them in bulk and wholesale since the beginning of the pandemic, but they quickly became scarce.
Ventilators are bedside machines used to help the patient breathe correctly and reach oxygen levels that meet the requirements for the cells to function normally, maintaining carbon dioxide at a non-threatening level as well. They’re completely different from respirators, but they often get confused because of their names.
We would like to end this informative piece by reminding our readers to keep themselves protected to help the healthcare workers on the frontlines and to keep the most vulnerable people in our communities safe. There are many face-coverings for sale online that offer the protection needed, and anyone who uses them is doing their part to fight off the pandemic.